19th of May | Story

Still waiting for the call


RENO, Nevada | The first pitch for another Reno Aces game is more than seven hours away and Brett Butler is on his way to the stadium. He walks down the sidewalk outside Aces Ballpark, shouts hellos to friends across the street, holds the door for strangers at a Mexican restaurant. He is 54 years old and looks more than a decade younger, impeccable in a purple dress shirt and gray slacks. The smile helps. He always smiles. He is happy here in Reno.

Now all he wants is the opportunity to skip town.

“To be honest with you,” he says in the dugout where he has managed 250 games, “I thought it would be quicker.”

Butler is the only manager the Aces have had during their four seasons in Reno. He has helped develop dozens of players during their climb to the Arizona Diamondbacks and has two winning seasons with a third on the way. He even has a restaurant named after him. But after seven seasons as a manager in the minors at four different stops, he wants his call to the Majors. What will it take? He played 17 seasons in the Majors — and finished with 2,375 hits, 558 steals, a .290 batting average and one trip to the World Series — coached another and has managed teams from Rookie ball to Triple-A seven of the last nine seasons.

“The difference between a manager and a player in the minors is, if you’re a player and you do your job, you’re going to play in the big leagues. If you’re a manager, unless you have an advocate who believes in you, you’re not going to get a job. It’s that simple.” — Reno manager Brett Butler

“The difference between a manager and a player in the minors is, if you’re a player and you do your job, you’re going to play in the big leagues,” he says. “If you’re a manager, unless you have an advocate who believes in you, you’re not going to get a job. It’s that simple.”

He talks sometimes with Ryne Sandberg, another big name who has spent years in the minors, managed teams rung by rung, and remains stuck. The Chicago Cubs passed over Sandberg last season in favor of Mike Quade. Now Sandberg manages the Lehigh Valley IronPigs of the Triple-A International League.

“‘All we can do is do our due diligence,’” Butler says Sandberg tells him, “‘and give it a shot.’”

During the last four decades, Butler has turned his small stature into a positive, developing himself from a high school backup into one of the top leadoff hitters of the 1980s and early ’90s. He has battled throat cancer, knocked out of his body thanks to aggressive treatment, and returned to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Now he has to turn the stigma that comes for minor league managers who have 54 years behind them and exactly zero games as a manager in the Majors.

He has managed for years, ever since his first seasons in the outfield for the Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians, mental notes about how to handle certain situations. “Even when I was playing, I was still, in my mind, managing. ‘I would do this here, I would do that there.’ I’ve always thought about it.

“I still love it like a little kid.”


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Time for minor league trivia. Before the Aces moved to Reno for the 2009 season, the team played in what other Pacific Coast League city? Want a hint? Their move left their old city without a team for two seasons. (Keep reading for the answer.)

The Aces scored nine runs in the first three innings and jumped out to an early lead over the Oklahoma City RedHawks on their way to a 14-9 win. Aces catcher Konrad Schmidt, shortstop Taylor Harbin and centerfielder Adam Eaton each had three hits, and Schmidt and Harbin both knocked in four runs. The Aces also tied their season high for most runs in a game — the first coming in a nail-biter 14-13 win over the Sacramento River Cats. 

Aces Ballpark is connected to the Freight House District, which includes four restaurants and bars — Arroyo Mexican Grill, Bugsy’s Sports Bar & Grill, Duffy’s Ale House and 250 Lounge. Fans can opt for a sports bar and sports patio ticket, which includes access to the stadium, restaurants and bars, and provides a view from the left side of the stadium. Not ready to go home after the last out? The Freight House District is open until 2 a.m. and hosts postgame shows during the season.

Some minor league baseball teams play a state song or a sentimental favorite after fans sing Take Me Out to the Ball Game. The Reno Aces inflate a giant baseball — complete with eyes, a mouth, rosy cheeks, four-fingered hands and an Aces cap — over the batter’s eye in centerfield. The ball appears for less than two minutes every home game and is somewhat iconic now during its fourth season in the city. The team has handed out giveaway statues and plush dolls are on sale in the gift shop. Not sure, but he might be lip syncing.

Want the answer? SK Baseball bought the Tucson Sidewinders and moved the team to Reno. The Aces played their first home game on April 17, 2009.

And in random statistical news. The game started two minutes later than scheduled, the first pitch was a strike and the first batter was called out on strikes. The national anthem was sung in 1 minute and 12.6 seconds by slightly off-key, but adorable, children from Porter Elementary. Before the game, we ate at Arroyo Mexican Grill on the first floor of the Freight House District. We ordered enormous burritos, one chicken, one vegetable. The most delicious part of the meal was the guacamole en molcajete. The item calls for a server to wheel a cart tableside, peel three avocados and mash them with cilantro, onions, jalapenos, tomato and lemon juice to make an appetizer that feeds far more than two.

Matt@AMinorLeagueSeason.com  Carolyn@AMinorLeagueSeason @MattLaWell ♦ @CarolynLaWell ♦ @AMinorLgSeason

Want to read stories about the other teams on our schedule? Click here and scroll to the calendar.